While just over a decade ago it might have been thought of blue skies, the recycling of multi-layer films for food safety applications by non-mechanical processes is now a reality and is being adopted at a rapid pace. . One of the latest brands to embrace advanced recycling is Mars Petcare, a division of Mars, Inc., which is launching a new pouch for its Sheba wet cat food that incorporates an average of 30% recycled polypropylene from advanced recycling technology. The first of its kind structure for wet pet food, the Sheba Pouch is not only food safe, but can also withstand the sterilization process.
The initiative is the result of a collaboration with petrochemical company SABIC and flexible film supplier Huhtamaki and was undertaken as part of Mars’ commitment to reduce its use of virgin plastic by 25% and use 30 % recycled content in its product portfolio by 2025.
Explain Graeme Smith, Global Director of Sustainable Packaging, R&D, for Mars Petcare, “A significant portion of our current product portfolio is packaged in flexible plastic packaging, which provides an excellent food safety barrier and protection, while conserving transportation to our pet parents in a very efficient and effective manner. We recognize, however, that these materials can have difficult effects on the overall carbon footprint as they can be difficult to recycle. For this reason, we have investigated several different options to reduce the overall impact on the environment, and by adding food safe recycled content to this solution, we believe we have achieved an excellent balance of environmental impact, while maintaining food safety.
The Sheba pouch is converted by Huhtamaki and incorporates as part of its multi-layer structure SABIC’s BCT18F PP impact polymer for autoclaved pouches, part of the company’s Trucircle portfolio. Trucircle’s advanced recycling process involves taking mixed plastic waste and recycling it through pyrolysis into an oil that can be used as a feedstock to produce a range of plastics with the same characteristics and functionality as virgin plastic.
According to SABIC, one of the most critical issues the Sheba pouch joint development team had to overcome was the approval of the complex new packaging structure, as it had to be able to withstand an autoclave temperature of 135 °C. for 60 minutes.
“As with any packaging process, especially where food contact approval is required, there are strict protocols that must be followed when validating new materials,” Smith says. “The process here was no different, and since the application of this material requires high temperatures and pressures to ensure food safety and shelf life, even greater care must be taken to ensure that the transition appear smoothly for our pet parents.
“The strength of the seal in particular was a focal point, because without good physical properties here, packaged food would not pass the process required to be transformed and appear on the shelves. This, along with extensive shelf life and palatability testing, was also necessary to ensure food loss is kept to a minimum and great flavor and nutritional value are maintained.
Smith adds that thanks to the continued and dedicated approach of SABIC and Huhtamaki, Mars Petcare was able to successfully process Huhtamaki’s film made with SABIC Trucircle resin for the Sheba retort application. Through this supply chain, Mars Petcare has also been able to confirm, through the International Sustainability Carbon Certification Scheme (ISCC), that its product has a mass balance impact on reducing fossil fuel consumption.
Mars Petcare is rolling out the new 35g gusset pouch for Sheba wet cat food in several European markets this year, with the UK, Poland and Switzerland being the top three in terms of quantity. The company also hopes to expand its use of the certified circular material to other brands in its portfolio, depending on availability.
“The future availability of these advanced recycled materials is slowly becoming more transparent, and with this increased visibility, we will be able to plan and schedule increased deployment of these products with more precision,” Smith says. “Having done the due diligence and hard work to approve these materials as well as ongoing testing and approvals with advanced recycled materials in general, we expect to be able to accelerate our rollout across our product line throughout 2022.”